NELSON MANDELA lands in the United States today on a trip that promises to be as tumultuous and emotional as a papal visit. There will be ticker tape and Ted Koppel, stadium rallies and a speech to Congress, and fund-raising dinners all across America. One of his tour organizers' main problems has been keeping his schedule sane: So many people are clamoring to see him that Mr. Mandela could go without sleep during his 12-day visit and still not meet the demand.
``This is developing to be one of the largest trips of its kind in American history,'' says Randall Robinson, director of TransAfrica, an anti-apartheid lobbying group in Washington, D.C., and a moving force behind the visit.
Beyond the hoopla, Mandela's message is that the US needs to keep up economic sanctions and other means of pressure on the South African government if apartheid is to be overcome.
As far as the White House is concerned, that is no problem, at least for now. ``There are no plans to raise the sanctions,'' presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Monday.
Under US sanctions, South African Airways is denied landing rights in the US, and imports of certain South African products are prohibited. New US investments and bank loans for South Africa are also proscribed.
Last week, there was a brief indication that perhaps the Bush administration was thinking about some sort of sanctions relaxation. It stemmed from White House Chief of Staff John Sununu's remark on a television talk show that he thought President Bush had the legal authority to remove the sanctions, and that the matter would be reviewed sometime in the next few weeks.
Legislation passed by Congress says Bush cannot relax sanctions until South Africa lifts the state of emergency imposed five years ago and releases an estimated 2,000 political prisoners, among other conditions.
In recent months, South African President F.W. de Klerk has made a number of reforms, from releasing Mandela after 27 years of imprisonment to a partial lifting of the country's state of emergency. But the state of emergency still stands in the province of Natal, and many prisoners judged political have yet to be released.
``The conditions set forth in law have not been met,'' Mr. Fitzwater said.
A confrontation over sanctions could lie in the future however, with the Bush administration urging relaxation against a Congress that has yet to be impressed by Mr. de Klerk's moves.
Mandela's visit is likely to only solidify feeling in Congress against the de Klerk government. The fight against apartheid has penetrated into American domestic politics perhaps more than any other foreign-policy issue, and Mandela himself has become the greatest hero in black America since Martin Luther King Jr.
In sweeping through Western nations only months after his release from prison, Mandela is likely seeking to consolidate the role of the African National Congress as the political counterweight to de Klerk. The ANC ``now has to perform like a legitimate political party. Mandela needs support just like Gorbachev, and going abroad is a way to get it,'' says Thomas Mahoney, a South Africa expert at Vanderbilt University.
Besides more political legitimacy, the ANC stands to gain money from the Mandela trip. Big stadium rallies in New York, Detroit, and other cities will charge admission of $5 to $25. Smaller fund-raising dinners range from $100 a plate to $5,000-plate affairs in private homes.
``More than anything else, Mandela's trip is about establishing the ANC as a major international political force,'' says Michael Clough, African studies fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The main stated message of Mandela's tour of western nations is the need for continued sanctions. But supporters hope there will also be a domestic side to Mandela's visit. He arrives at a time when racial polarization is again in the news, due to such events as New York's Bensonhurst murder case. As a figure that appeals to both black and white, Mandela might be able to ease some tensions.
``He reminds us of some of the values we've seen erode in our society,'' Mr. Robinson says.
Critics agree Mandela is an historic figure, but caution that among other things he has yet to repudiate the use of violence against civilians, has hailed South Africa's Communist Party, and is part of an organization involved in black-on-black tribal violence.
``Americans should praise Mandela for his lifelong role in opposing apartheid, but they should not think that he alone holds the keys to a democratic South Africa,'' writes Michael Johns, a Heritage Foundation policy analyst.